Stan's suggestions for care and handling of cheese

By By Stan Torgerson / wine columnist
March 20, 2002
I've been doing my homework preparing for next week's wine and cheese tasting and it is amazing no, make that appalling how shallow the depth of my knowledge is about one of the best foods available on this Earth.
It's not the flavors. I haven't tasted every cheese made, but I've done my share of touring the world through the product American, French, English, Spanish and all points in between. And I remember most of them.
But there's more to eating cheese than just adding crackers and a good bottle of wine. There's the basic information that helps you make your choice of what to buy and how to give it the proper amount of TLC before you enjoy the pleasure it surely brings.
There are at least 1,000 different types of cheese being made today. Some are by small independent producers. Others by the big companies who literally mass produce it. The flavors vary according to the animal which produced the milk from which the cheese was made, the soil, the grass these animals have eaten, the water they drank and the climate of the area in which they lived.
Cheese is nothing more or less than concentrated milk. It normally has a butterfat content at the 50 percent level but there are some double cream cheeses, which means the butterfat content has been increased to 60 percent. There is even triple cream cheese that takes the butterfat level to 70 percent.
At least two of the cheese types to be served at the tasting will be triple cream. It's like wine once you taste the great triple cream cheese products it is difficult to go back to mass produced supermarket brie or camembert.
The cheese itself is protected by its rind, which is merely a coating. Some rinds like Swiss develop naturally. Some are made of wax and are inedible, such as the rind on Gouda. Most of the triple cream rinds are edible.
Mold is common on cheese, but there are several things you can do to prevent it. Handle cheese carefully and keep it tightly wrapped and under refrigeration. The ideal temperature is 35 to 40 degrees.
Keep other cheese that has mold in it (Roquefort or blue) away from cheese that does not. Mold spores are light and easily airborne. If your cheese develops surface mold, just cut that portion off and enjoy the rest. The flavor will not be changed.
If the mold has penetrated below the surface, you can usually tell when you open the package. The cheese will likely be harder than it should be because it has lost its moisture. It will also probably be darker than fresh cheese of the same type.
As a rule of thumb, the shelf life of soft-ripening cheese is four to six weeks. Firm cheese will keep for 60 to 90 days. Hard cheese such as parmesan can live for more than 90 days.
All this assumes that it has been properly wrapped and properly stored. As for unripened soft cheese, such as ricotta and cottage cheese, it can be kept for two to four weeks.
If you plan to cook with cheese, do so at a low temperature to keep it from separating or getting tough and stringy. Take the cheese out of the refrigerator early and let it warm to room temperature so you won't have to heat it so quickly.
If you are serving it with crackers for snacks or for your guest to enjoy before a meal, let it also warm up to room temperature. Take it out two hours in advance, depending on how warm the room is. That way, the full flavor of the cheese will be readily apparent.
Do not freeze cheese. It won't spoil, but the texture will change and become less smooth. The higher the fat content the better it will freeze, but generally frozen cheese is best used for cooking.
Wrap all cheese tightly after cutting to keep it fresh. You want to keep the moisture in and the air out. But don't reuse the same film. It won't close properly and it might not give you an airtight seal. Spend a few pennies and use a new wrapper each time. Remember if you leave cheese out and unwrapped it will dry out quickly and can be used only for grating and cooking.
We are following our own advice. The wine and cheese tasting is March 28. While the cheese has been pre-ordered in order to be certain our source of supply in New Orleans will have the six specific types we wish to serve, it will be brought to Meridian only a very few days in advance and carefully refrigerated until that night. To the best of our knowledge none of the cheese to be served is available in Meridian. It is all imported n mostly from France, England, Spain and Italy.
Each cheese will be accompanied by a wine specifically chosen to enhance the flavor and enjoyment of both. Those wines will vary from champagne to cabernet sauvignon to chardonnay to port and others.
Since we can't run to the nearest supermarket and get comparable cheese types if we oversell this tasting, we have had to guess a little and put a limit on the number of seats available.
We are buying enough cheese to serve that number and that's all. You are urged to call 482-0930 and make your reservation or mail your check for $30 per place to Wines Unlimited, P.O. Box 5223 Meridian, MS 39302.
All cheese will be served accompanied by Bremner Wafers, the accepted best cracker to complement cheese without combating it. We want this tasting to be another one you'll never forget it.

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